Monday, March 5, 2012

Knight: The Warrior and World of Chivalry by Robert Jones

I was big into knights when I was like 10-years-old or so. I had a bunch of coloring books and those thin kids' paperbacks about knights and castles. I made drawings of knights making ample use of a silver crayon, one of which has survived to this day (see scan at left).

Seeing the suits of armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was impressive, but a scholarly interest didn't develop until after I left college. After I got my first job I went through a short phase of reading Medieval history books. At lunch break I'd walk down the street to the bookstore and would browse the shelves for new books. Then I got into Roman history, and I left Medieval books behind for another decade.

Last fall I finished reading the current books in G. R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, which reignited my curiosity about knights. It seems pretty clear that Martin researched actual Medieval life, so I decided to look into the real-life story. I started with a general history book on knights, aptly titled Knight: The Warrior and World of Chivalry.

As with most of Osprey Publishing's books it is lavishly illustrated. You won't see any reconstructions painted by modern artists, but every spread displays colorful imagery from period manuscripts, photos of surviving armor, etc. You could describe Knight as a coffee table book, but the text itself is well researched and well written. The author calls upon a wide range of art objects, writings, and archaeological examples to support his points. Performing his duty as a good historian, Jones also includes contradictory evidence.

There are the expected chapters on armor and weapon development, organization, tactics, etc., but I was interested to find that the author delved into the mind of the Medieval knight. We consider his emotions, his beliefs, and how these affected prowess in battle. For instance, I was genuinely surprised to read how faithful to honor knights could be. I knew they were supposed to be chivalrous, but I was impressed to learn of opposing knights refusing to kill each other in battle, hostages agreeing not to attempt escape, and whole cities agreeing to remain "captured" after the invading army leaves.

This book was a good introduction to the military of the Middle Ages. The one criticism I have is that this general overview of European knights focuses primarily on the English. I believe the author is himself English, so it makes sense that the material most accessible to him would be limited to his own language. In any case, it's a good text, and I now see just how historic the world of Games of Thrones really is.

In keeping with my real-life Games of Thrones study, I plan on reading War of the Roses by Alison Weir.


Mr. Lee said...

Interesting to read this review of a book on Knights.. will have to look into getting a copy for myself. Thanks for this..

Brandon Kruse said...

I'd love to hear your review of the Weir book when you're through; it's on my list too.

Thanks for the "Knight" review! Checking the library now...